Federal Water Tap, May 7: NASA Set to Launch Sequel to Water-Tracking GRACE Satellite

The Rundown

Follow up to successful GRACE mission is scheduled to launch May 19. DOE report shows U.S. hydropower is growing by going small. A pair of water infrastructure funding bills are introduced in the House and Senate. A Utah representative moves to eliminate a desert lakes restoration program. The EPA looks at management of oil and gas wastewater. And lastly, the farm bill will soon be debated on the House floor.

“We are hopeful negotiations will be starting very soon. This is an extremely important bilateral treaty … with our closest ally.” — Francisco Palmieri, an acting assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department, on Columbia River Treaty negotiations. Canada and the United States are likely to expand the scope of the half-century-old treaty beyond its original purposes of flood control and power generation. Salmon health and ecosystems will be on the docket this time.

By the Numbers

$4 million: Research funding for detecting lead in drinking water. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

News Briefs

Daughters of GRACE
Its parents were called “scales in the sky” that opened new understanding of the world’s groundwater, ice sheets, and glaciers. The pair of daughter satellites that NASA is preparing to launch will extend the flow of space-based insight.

NASA says the window to launch the sequel to the GRACE satellite mission, called GRACE Follow-On, will open on May 19. When weather conditions cooperate, the instruments will hitch a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Once in orbit, researchers will have a fresh set of eyes for tracking changes in the distribution of the world’s water.

The initial GRACE mission began in 2002. The two satellites orbited in tandem and measured minute changes in the Earth’s gravity. Those gravitational shifts could be translated into large-scale movements of water and ice: groundwater depletion in India or ice sheet losses in Greenland.

In context: NASA Ends Trailblazing Satellite Mission That Revealed Global Groundwater Trends

Water Infrastructure Funding Bill
House Democrats propose a $35 billion per year water infrastructure fund, which would be seeded by increasing corporate taxes by three and a half percentage points.

More than seven out of eight dollars would go towards the state revolving funds, which provide low-interest loans for drinking water and sewer projects.

The bill also requires the EPA to report on water affordability and discrimination in water services, as well as local input when utilities are consolidated into regional systems.

Terminate the Desert Terminal Lakes Program?
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) introduced a bill that would eliminate a federal program for environmental restoration projects around desert lakes in the Great Basin of California and Nevada.

Terminal lakes do not drain to the sea. Their watersheds are self-contained, like dimples on the Earth.

Studies and Reports

Hydropower Market Growth
Most of the hydropower capacity added in the United States in the last decade has come from installation of turbines at dams that did not previously generate power, according to an annual U.S. hydropower market report.

Smaller units are plagued by higher operational costs per unit of generating capacity and more unplanned outages.

The report, which includes data on hydropower generation, project proposals, policy considerations, operation costs, and pricing, was prepared for the Department of Energy by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In context: U.S. Hydropower Grows by Going Small

EPA to Look at Oil and Gas Wastewater
No, not a rehash of that study, the oft-delayed one into water contamination.

No, this study will “engage with stakeholders” to outline regulatory changes that might be needed to dispose of or reuse the water.

Most of this produced water is injected deep underground, which causes earthquakes. But there is a different path. In the Permian Basin, nascent markets for produced water are developing.

In context: America’s Oil Boom Cannot Happen without Groundwater

On the Radar

Farm Bill Moves out of Committee
The House Agriculture Committee sent the big farm and nutrition bill to the full House. It will likely be debated on the House floor the week of May 14, according to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), who shepherded the bill through committee.

Conaway told the radio program AgriTalk (starting at 27:20) that “we need to get this done and done on time” and that means doing so without Democratic votes in the House.

Water Infrastructure Hearing
On May 9, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works discusses a water infrastructure bill that is expected to be introduced a day earlier. The bill will likely be a conglomerate of existing Senate water bills and new legislation that will target the rebuilding of old water systems through financial and technical support.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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